Of the People: Agencies must cooperate for e-gov to succeed

Agencies must cooperate for e-gov to succeed

Ira Hobbs

Slowly but surely, momentum continues to build for e-government, the steady transformation of government, to use an already-overused expression, from bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar.

Most recently, the Office of Management and Budget released its strategy paper for e-government in which it provided details and milestones for 24 cross-agency initiatives and outlined a new governance structure to put them in place. When completed, the projects will digitize services for organizations and individuals within the federal government, and between federal, state and local governments.

Nearly simultaneously, the General Services Administration unveiled a spruced-up FirstGov, the Web portal first launched 18 months ago to give citizens and businesses a single point of access to online government information and services. The remodeled portal organizes information from a customer-centric perspective, with colorful and useful sections designed for citizens, businesses and other governments. These are welcome developments.

E-government is still difficult to define precisely. But for all of its vagueness, I think customers and employees know it when they see it. What is less widely understood is just exactly what federal agencies need to do to speed up the transformation.

The real question, the one OMB tried to address in its strategy document, is, how do you do e-government? The focus of those of us working in the agency trenches should be in three areas: leadership, collaboration and partnership, and project management.

Leadership is needed at all levels, but senior executives'cabinet secretaries and deputies but also CIOs and other career executives'should work to remove the roadblocks to e-government that only we can remove. Leadership requires us to ask questions about why we do things the way we do them, and to be skeptical of the status quo. It means engaging the program and IT by being proactive, pushing our agencies.

Collaboration and partnership among agencies is also critical. It must be led by program managers engaged with the IT community and industry partners. Collaboration and partnership will ensure that we don't take the old way of doing business, in agency silos, and transfer it online and that we don't reinvent the wheel.

Agencies might as well collaborate, because the level of e-gov spending OMB has committed to, and the mechanism by which project leaders will get their funds, is forcing them to collaborate. This is less a matter of passing the hat than of reaching multiple agencies' goals with less redundancy.

Finally, we need to focus on project management. Business transformation usually requires change that must be managed from conception, to revised process, to measuring customer satisfaction.

In the long run, our successful transformation to e-government depends on our people. It's up to us to keep the momentum going.

Ira Hobbs is acting CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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